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Foreign Students add Flavor to US Squash
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The men's squash team at Trinity College resembles a meeting of the model U-N, with players from a dozen different countries.

"Columbia, Jamaica, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Malaysia, Sweden... one or two from Mars as best I can tell."

Paul Assiante has been coaching the team since 1995. When he started, there were no international players. Today, halfPaul Assiante and WNPR's Catie TalarskiPaul Assiante and WNPR's Catie Talarski of the 24 team members are from other countries. Today they're practicing before a match with their biggest rival, number-two-ranked Princeton University.

"Killer Bee" is Baset Ashfacq Chaudhry, the teams number one player. The lanky sophomore from Pakistan fell in love with Squash when he was nine years old. He played professionally for a year before coming to Trinity.

"In Pakistan I would say it's a little more popular because we have had a lot of champions."

That's putting it mildly. Pakistan has produced perhaps the two greatest players of all time, Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan. The game has unlikely origins. In the early 1800's English prisoners got exercise by hitting a ball against the prison walls with a racquet. The game of rackets made its way to an elite boys school in London, where students used a softer ball that squashed on impact. Squash eventually spread to other countries where British forces were stationed. Today it's played in at least 130 countries. Baset says back home, it's very competitive and players push themselves harder than most Americans do.

"A lot of people play squash in U-S as opposed to Pakistan for physical fitness, but I think its growing at a fast rate over here, which is a very good thing."

Trinity's Gustav Detter, from Sweden, rallies the ball against PrincetonTrinity's Gustav Detter, from Sweden, rallies the ball against Princeton

Close to a thousand fans crowd around the glass-encased courts for Trinity's match against Princeton. Two years agothey beat the Ivy League school in a very close and heated match.

"This is sort of the return to the scene of the crime. The word has been coming up the pike that theyre ready."

Two goggled athletes - one in a yellow shirt, the other in black - look like two bumblebees doing a dance. They weave in and out, quickly switching places, making the extended volley seem effortless.

Andres Vargas from Columbia and Randy Lim from MalaysiaAndres Vargas from Columbia and Randy Lim from Malaysia "Freshman Randy. He is from Malaysia. He is our favorite. He's very fast, very skilled and keeps it interesting on the court."

As much as these fans adore the athletes - Coach Assiante has gotten flack for bringing so many international students to the team.

"The feeling is this is wrong, our children are being denied an opportunity to play at a college. And my feeling is this isn't a private country club. You want to bring in the best and the brightest. And so we need to get USA athletics up to this standard. Why not?"

Kevin Klipstine, CEO of US Squash, agrees with Assiante

"Absolutely, having exposure to players of different styles and from different countries just naturally having higher level of competition is pushing Americans to reach higher. Trinitys dominance has absolutely elevated the college game to new levels.

The best and the brightest foreign students have been playing squash at American schools since the early 1990s. It was then that U-S schools adopted the international rules of the game. Now foreign students make up ten percent of all college squash players. Assiante says access to the sport is much greater in other countries than it is here.

"It's a much more public game - Simba who you'll meet - the young man with the dreadlocks - his family, they're really poor."

Senior Simba Muhwati started playing the game with his father in Zimbabwe when he was six. His dad, a former policeman, would take him to the squash court at the police station.

"I think when I got to about 8 or 9 he realized I was getting much better at it and that's when he started really care aboutSimba MuhwatiSimba Muhwatiwhat I was doing and was always over my shoulder telling me what I did wrong the day before - and telling me what I should do."

Muhwati was one of the first black people on Zimbabwe's top national team. This was a big deal for his dad, he says, who felt like his son was making a statement.

At times, Coach Assiante feels like a parent himself - pushing his boys, as he calls them, to make their own statements. As a team with one hundred eighty straight wins, it seems they already have.

All photos by Chion Wolf. For more photos, visit our Flickr Page